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166                                                                                                                    B- POLEVOI
Alexei was aware how precious all these things were to
the girls serving in the army in those hard times. He
knew that a piece of soap or a bottle of eau-de-Cologne
received as a holiday gift was treasured by them as
though it were a sacred amulet which reminded them of
civil life before the war.
He knew the value of these gifts and was therefore
glad and ashamed when he laid them out on top of his
bedside cupboard.
Now that he, with his characteristic energy, was train-
ing his crippled legs and dreaming of the possibility of
flying and fighting again, he was torn by mixed feelings.
The fact that he was obliged to prevaricate and tell half-
truths in his letters to Olya, his love for whom grew
stronger every day, and to be frank with a girl whom
he scarcely knew, weighed heavily upon his conscience.
But he solemnly pledged himself to speak to Olya about
love again only when his dream came true, when he had
recovered his fighting fitness and had returned to the
ranks. And this still further stimulated the fanatical zeal
with which he drove himself towards his goal.
11
The Commissar died on the first of May.
Nobody knew how it happened. In the morning, after
he was washed and combed, he questioned the woman
barber who was shaving him about the weather and about
what Moscow looked like on this holiday. He was glad
to hear that the barricades were being removed from the
streets, lamented the fact that there would be no demon-
stration on this glorious spring day, and teased Klavdia
Mikhailovna, who on the occasion of the holiday had
made ari heroic attempt to conceal her freckles with face
powder. He seemed better, and everybody began to hope
that he had turned the corner and was now, perhaps, on
the road to recovery.
For some time, since he was no longer able to read
the newspapers, he had a wireless set with ear-phones at
his bedside. Gvozdev, who knew about wireless sets, did
something to it, and now the talking and singing could
be heard all over the ward. At nine o'clock, the announc-